I was recently quoted in the Asheville Citizen-Times prognosticating about Heath Shuler's probable stature in the next Congress Here's what I said: “He's probably in a better position than a lot of Democrats are because he is a conservative Democrat and made no bones about it,” Cooper said. “He could come out smelling pretty nice because he's the kind of Democrat who could maintain some power, even in the minority party."
Putting aside my odd phrasing of "smelling pretty nice," (what was I thinking?), I still agree with this statement and as he always does, John Boyle quoted me accurately and fairly.
I was very pleased to see that an interested citizen took the time to write the AC-T about my statement. In a letter to the editor, the reader stated that "Given the far-left leanings of House District 11, Rep. Shuler will move to the left joining the Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi wing, not necessarily because he is a “true believer” but because that is what will be required to fend off challenges from the far-left. Should Rep. Shuler fail to move left, Councilman Cecil Bothwell and others will be waiting in the wings for the 2012 primaries."
I am always pleased when people take the time to write letters to the editor (so much so that Gibbs, our friend Moshe and I published a paper about letters to the editor in NC newspapers)* and I appreciate Mr. Arnold's perspective on his district. But, as the readers of this blog know, I generally want to solve disagreements like this with data and the most obvious way to test the reader's claim vs. mine is to examine the voter registration statistics in the 11th Congressional District. If there are a lot more Democrats in our district than their are in the state as a whole, then that would be a good sign that the reader's right and I'm wrong. If we find the opposite, well, we'll see....
According to the NC Board of Elections, there indeed are more Democrats than Republicans in our district (40% Democrat vs. 33% Republican w/ 28% Independent or Libertarian). When comparing this to the statewide numbers, however, we see that our district is actually less Democratic than the state as a whole. In North Carolina, 45% of voters are Democrats, 32% are Republicans and 24% are Independents or Libertarians). Obviously it is possible that more of our independents are liberal than they are in the rest of the state, but I have never seen any evidence suggesting this is true (if anything, the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction). Of course, partisanship and ideology don't always map onto each other so it's also possible that people in our district are more liberal despite not being more Democratic. Again, however, my read of available data on this suggests that this is not true.
So, why did the reader (who is politically engaged enough to write a letter to the editor and reasonable enough to write a well-written, well-argued letter) believe this? My guess--because he lives in Asheville. As we've found in many surveys, Asheville is not like the rest of the district. Asheville is indeed more liberal than many places in North Carolina and only 27% of Buncombe County voters are Republicans. It's very easy to assume that Asheville=the 11th Congressional District, but the reality is that our district is a fairly large one and includes many counties that are far more Republican and conservative than Buncombe County.
The balance of the evidence suggest that while Asheville may be "the San Francisco of the South," the rest of the 11th Congressional District would be pretty out-of-place in the Bay Area.
* I really do mean this. Compare the quality of the discourse in letters to the editor to Internet comments on the same story. Letters to the editor are almost always better written, better argued and better informed than their counterparts on the Internet (except for the commenters on this blog, of course).